Curfew imposed amid quake chaos

Curfew imposed amid quake chaos
The Chilean Government has imposed a curfew on some of the areas worst affected by Saturday's devastating earthquake, as the official death toll stretches beyond 700.

There are fears the toll could climb much higher as more casualties emerge from outlying areas along the country’s huge coastline.

Nearly half of the country’s regions have been declared catastrophe zones.

The quake has left many people afraid to return to their homes and in some areas there has been looting and public disorder.

Police were forced to use tear gas and water cannons to disperse looters, but some Chileans say they have no other option but to steal the essentials.

“It’s going to keep happening because it has been two nights of this and people are desperate,” one Chilean man said.

“They are desperate and the only way to survive is to come and get what you need.”

One woman said she had been left with nothing.

“We don’t have anything,” she said. “We don’t have water. We don’t have food.

“We have money to buy but we can’t buy because stores are closed. We left our homes early yesterday because they told us a tsunami was coming.”

Widespread impact

As many as 2 million people have been affected by the 8.8 magnitude quake.

The quake lasted about 90 seconds and was one of the biggest ever recorded.

“I lost my bed,” said one Chilean woman. “I lost everything. All I have is the clothes on my back.

“We were desperate and we ran up to the hill. We were up there all night. We couldn’t do anything.”

It was a terrifying ordeal for those near the quake’s epicentre.

“We heard all around the neighbourhood glasses crashing down, children crying, women getting pretty upset and people just started pouring out of their apartments and going outside,” another woman said.

“It was pretty hard.”

State television has been reporting more than 350 people are feared dead in the coastal city of Constitucion, which was hit by a tsunami.

More than 100 people are thought to be trapped in an apartment block in Concepcion which is the closest city to the earthquake’s epicentre.

The 15-storey building toppled over in Saturday’s quake.

“We were going up to get out and we saw a shaft of light and we thought it was a window,” said one man who had managed to escape.

“We thought we’d die. I heard my friend’s screams and I opened a door and the building just dissolved around us and we fell.”

There are roughly half a million damaged buildings around the country and there have been aftershocks measuring as high as six in magnitude.

Tent city

In the capital Santiago, which is further removed from the epicentre, people have been sleeping in tents in parks, too afraid to return to their homes.

“It is not good to sleep like this but it is something we have to do because the house is in such a bad way,” said a woman in Santiago.

“The street is ripped open and there could be an aftershock so we just said no.

“We have been walking around everywhere since early this morning because of the cold.”

The earthquake has had a serious impact on transport infrastructure.

Chilean president Michelle Bachelet says her priority at the moment is restoring power.

“The situation that we have today is the problem of energy and electricity,” she said.

“In that sense we are working strongly with the companies and we are demanding that they have to do their maximum effort in order to guarantee the supply of electrical energy.

“We have a generation system that is working at full capacity. The problem is not one of generation but it is distribution of electricity.”

Her government is also set to begin distributing food and other vital aid around the country.

Help offered

The UN has promised aid if Chile wants it, international aid groups are on standby and many countries including Australia have offered help.

But the Chilean Government says it needs time to assess the damage.

In Rome, the Pope told pilgrims in St Peter’s Square he was praying for the victims of the earthquake.

“My thoughts go out to Chile and the people hit by the earthquake, which has caused numerous deaths and great damage,” he said.

“I’m praying for the victims and I am spiritually close to the people who are being tested by such a devastating calamity.”

© 2010 Australian Broadcasting Corporation


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